If you are a regular reader of this blog or you landed here searching for information about Brown Girl Dreaming, I probably don’t need to explain to you how stories can change lives. Maybe you are a reader who has long been drawn to the power of story. Maybe you’re a parent looking for books to instill that appreciation in your kids. Or maybe you’re a librarian who has made connecting people with books into a career. Whatever the case, I think you know what stories can do.
Brown Girl Dreaming was a story I had to read twice to really appreciate. The first time I flew through the pages looking for familiar elements that I so rarely see in books. You see, I spent my childhood learning the days of the week by their religious obligation, standing quietly during the Pledge of Allegiance, and sitting out of school holiday celebrations just like Jacqueline Woodson did. Like other minority experiences, it is one that is not often reflected in books, especially books for kids.
For readers who have never had the experience, let me tell you how it feels to read a book about a person who shares something that sets you apart from most people: it is thrilling. I tore through Brown Girl Dreaming looking for what we shared. There was much we didn’t share–Woodson is African-American and grew up in the 1960s; I am Caucasian and grew up in the 1980s–but so many of her words and feelings might have been mine when it referenced our shared childhood religion.
In the world of children’s books, we have been talking a lot about the need for books to reflect the diverse experiences, cultures, ethnicities, abilities, etc. of young readers. I have always believed that, but Brown Girl Dreaming made me feel it.
My second time through the book was slower. I wanted to read it again to see what others who don’t share my religious background were seeing. In that reading, I saw an exquisite coming-of-age memoir that was about so much more than religion. It was about the power of stories to shape who we are. Woodson wrote about the stories her family told, the stories she read, and the stories she wrote as a child, and how they all became part of her. She concludes her memoir by describing herself as a person who believes in many things, who carries many worlds inside of her because of those experiences of listening, reading, and observing the stories around her.
If there is one idea I can share with others, it is the one expressed in the final poem: “When there are many worlds, love can wrap itself around you, say, Don’t cry.” Seek many worlds for yourself. Listen, read, observe.
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